Repetition: A Study

Hi there. I hope you have had a marvelous 4th of July weekend (if you’re American; I still hope you’ve had a good weekend regardless)!

As of late, I’ve been preparing for a piano examination. The premise is pretty simple: play 15 pieces well in an hour. However, getting down and memorizing 15 pieces is not so simple, so I’ve broken up my work: I’ve split up my pieces into sections and I work on repeating the sections until I am satisfied.

Repetition often has a bad rap among learning techniques, but I find this is often essential to practicing piano. Without practice (which is mainly composed of lots of repetition), we don’t become familiar with our piece and we fumble our way through. With that in mind, I find that repetition boils down to two types:

  • passive repetition – student repeats section/piece not thinking about piano; they have somewhere else they want to be or something else they’d rather be doing and that is consuming their thoughts
    • this is obviously a bad thing to because:
      • you’re not thinking about the music
      • you may even cement in bad habits or a wrong fingering that you didn’t correct
  • active repetition – student is focusing on piano, catching mistakes and fixing them as they repeat a section
    • this is probably the type of repetition you want to be aiming towards when practicing piano
    • I find it beneficial when I find mistakes to play the measure in which the mistake occurred a few times before playing a section as a whole (a section to me is usually a couple of measures, sometimes a page)

Today I experimented with three variables in my practice: section size, repeat counting, and speed.

  • section size: I practiced my classical piece (3rd movement of Mozart’s Sonata K.330) as a whole, then in pieces. I felt that the better result was achieved by cutting up the piece by general patterns; when I found a pattern, I would follow that pattern to where it ended and mark that off as a section.
  • repeat counting: I don’t count how many times I repeat things most of the time when I practice, I just practice until things sound about right.
    Me ticking off the number of times I played a section because I can’t seem to keep numbers straight in my head.

    I was skeptical about setting a certain number of repetitions because I thought that cutting off at an arbitrary number instead of at the point where I was satisfied was silly. However, I found that time passed easily when I practiced and counted my repetitions. I was able to practice for a continuous two hours without it feeling like two hours had passed.

  • speed: Long story short, don’t practice fast, it doesn’t get the job done better. If you’re already playing your piece smoothly, play it at the tempo that it needs to be at, and if you can’t play it at that tempo, start slow and work your way up. If you’re just starting a piece, work slow first.

That’s about it for today. I’ll stop blogging about piano and actually go practice now.

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Repetition: A Study

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